New album from Guinea's master griot singer. Soaring melodies, rolling rythmns and a...
Charlie Gillett 2002
Glancing down the track-listing of this album, one song title leapt out: James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World". There are few promising precedents for Africans recording American soul songs, but this works brilliantly in every possible way. Despite opening with a kora, the arrangement stays quite close to the original. Sekouba's lead vocal soars along new melodies of his own invention and in his own language. If one record proves the strong connections between the griot vocalists of West Africa and the gospel and soul singers of America's Southern states, here it is.
This is the best record of its type since Salif Keita's breakthrough album Soro, in 1987: West African music with western pop production values. Its a difficult balance to get right, and until Moffou earlier this year, most of Salif's subsequent records have tilted too far towards guitar-rock posturing or neo-cabaret horn arrangements. Some of the same team that created Soro are involved here: executive producer Ibrahim Sylla; arranger/keyboard player Francois Breant; and guitarist Ousmane Kouyate.
Sekouba grew up in the far north of Guinea, close to the border with Mali, but although his impassioned voice is reminiscent of Salif's, the music is unmistakably Guinean. Guinea is the third source of a substantial body of music in Francophone West Africa, along with Mali and Senegal. But it's not yet been as widely recognised despite providing us with the first of West Africa's horn-led bands, Bembeya Jazz. After Bembeya's first vocalist died in the mid-seventies, teenager Sekouba Diabate took over the role, soon to be nicknamed Bambino because of his youth. And Bambino he remains, thirty years later.
Apart from "Man's World", the rest of the songs are closer to what you would expect from a record by a West African griot singer: passionately sung, liberally laced with soaring melodies, lightly balanced on rhythms that ripple and roll. "Famou" appears twice, first as an acoustic song with accordion adding an unusual flavour to the classic sound and then returning at the end of the album as a dance remix. This feels like what the American used to call a sleeper. A record you take for granted at first, and then gradually come to appreciate for its classic beauty and exultant commitment.